Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron—who thought life began and ended with his kids—is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road.
Larx has been living for his kids too—and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last.
It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.
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Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual
Protagonist 1 Age: 46-65
Protagonist 2 Age: 46-65
Tropes: Families/Raising Kids
Word Count: 95000
Setting: Rural California
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Running in the Sun
AARON GEORGE adjusted the collar of his uniform and checked his graying blond hair in the rearview mirror—and then felt foolish. He was forty-eight years old, for sweet Christ’s sake. But Larx was running down Cambrian Way again, and he’d taken his shirt off in deference to the afternoon heat, and something had to be done.
His shoulders gleamed sleek and gold in the late-September sun, and his body—lean and long, although he was around Aaron’s age—moved with a longtime runner’s grace.
Aaron had been working hard to keep off the fifty pounds that had hit his waist when he turned thirty. He was about halfway successful, because diet and exercise weren’t as easy when you drove an SUV up and down mountain roads as they had been when he was flatfooting around the city.READ MORE
But Aaron’s wife had died ten years ago, and he’d had three kids—two of them out of the house now. It had felt easier, somehow, to take a deputy position in Colton. The city—even Sacramento, which was a small city by most standards—was a young man’s game. Colton, population 10,000 or so, was a little more laid-back and suited for raising a family.
Which had apparently been Larx’s idea too, since he’d brought his daughters to Colton after his divorce.
Or that’s what Aaron had heard. Mr. Larkin—Larx to his students and staff—had moved to Colton seven years earlier. Aaron’s youngest two had taken Larx’s science class and pronounced him “way cooler than anyone else in this hick burg.” When the older administration retired, Larx had put up quite a fight to not be the principal.
Aaron hadn’t been there, of course, but his youngest, Kirby, had been an office TA his junior year. He’d heard the battles raging in Nobili’s office, and the staff room, and once, he’d told his father salaciously, in the middle of the quad.
In the end, Larx had conceded to be principal on three conditions.
One was that he got to teach AP Chemistry during zero period in the morning, before school, because he’d worked for five years to make the AP program flourish and he was damned if he’d give the class to the two-year rookie who was the only other teacher at the school qualified to teach the class. (Kirby told his father there had been much rejoicing with this caveat, because Mr. Albrecht was, by all accounts, a power-hungry little prick.)
The second condition was that his best friend, Yoshi Nakamoto, be promoted to the VP’s spot. Yoshi was in his early thirties and had taught English at John F. Colton High School for six years. As far as Aaron had heard, he was a solid teacher and a nice guy, and probably the exact person a new administrator would want to have his back.
The third condition was that Larx still got to coach the track-and-field team year round.
It was the one condition he hadn’t been granted, because (and, again, with Kirby as his source) Mr. Nakamoto had insisted Time-Turners were only real in Harry Potter books, and Larx just didn’t have the hours in the day.
Which was when Larx had started fucking with Aaron’s nice orderly life in a big way.
Because every day at 4:45 in the afternoon, Larx would appear on this stretch of road, right when Aaron was wrapping up his rounds of the county. He would run from the school down Cambrian, turn right on Olson—which was barely more than a tractor road—and cut through to the highway, which was squirrely as shit and had no shoulder. He’d run the highway for a mile, turn right on Hastings, which was also squirrely as shit and had no shoulder, and then turn right and run back to the high school on Cambrian.
The first time Aaron had seen him do this, his heart had stopped. Literally stopped. Because he’d seen the headlines scrolling behind his eyes: Local Principal Killed by Own Stupidity. Entire High School Runs into Road Like Wild Ducks in Protest and Mourning.
And then, just when his heart had started beating again, he’d seen—really seen—Larx without his shirt.
Aaron was forty-eight years old. He’d known he was bisexual in high school, but it had been easier to date girls than boys back then, so he’d gone with it. He’d loved his wife with all his heart, hadn’t looked back once from the day they’d met, and had been busy as hell over the past ten years trying to raise his children.
Aaron’s libido had mostly closed up shop since his wife died, with occasional openings during tourist season when the kids were at their grandparents’. One glimpse of that glistening, tan back, those rangy shoulders, the sweat-slicked black hair, and his libido woke up and started to pray to Cialis, goddess of horny middle-aged men.
He’d gunned his motor that day and passed Larx in a haze of confusion. He was desperate to get the hell out of there before Larx caught him staring openmouthed at a guy trying to be sweaty, glisteny roadkill in the red-dirt shade of pine trees up near Tahoe National Forest.
The next day his libido told him he’d been a fool to pass up that chance to watch Larx run, and that if he passed him again, he should slow down a tad and take in the view.
Aaron had done just that, slowing down a little, giving Larx a wide berth, smiling and waving as he passed. They knew each other from parent meetings, board meetings, community events. If given a chance, Aaron would gravitate to talk to Larx in a crowd, because he was funny and smart and a born smartass. So it was only natural that Larx waved back, friendly-like, and Aaron tried not to spend the next few hours of paperwork and gun and fishing permits grinning like a teenaged girl.
He’d had two of those. They weren’t rational creatures, and he had no intentions of turning into one.
Larx had a narrow, mischievous face, a rather sharp nose and chin, and wicked brown eyes with deep laugh lines at the corners. He looked more like a hell-raiser than an authority figure, and when he grinned and waved, he gave a couple of dancy little steps to help keep in rhythm on the side of the road.
It made him look like a perky little lemur, except human, and with glisteny tanned shoulders and laugh lines and a nearly hairless chest and an ass you could bounce a quarter off, barely covered in nylon running shorts.
But no. Aaron was in no way turning into a teenaged girl.
That hadn’t kept him from making sure he adhered religiously to his own schedule, the one that had him driving by Larx just when he started to sweat the most. Today, though, was going to be special. Today, Aaron was actually going to talk.
What could it hurt? Larx didn’t have to know about Aaron’s little crush. And even if he did think Aaron was hitting on him (which he most absolutely was positively not), Aaron knew for a fact that Larx had not only allowed but encouraged the GSA on campus. So even if he thought this was a come-on, and was not, in no way, absolutely not interested in men, hopefully he wouldn’t go screaming for the hills, holding his shirt to his magnificent chest in maidenly horror.
Or that was Aaron’s thinking, anyway.
He pushed his mirrored sunglasses up his nose, rolled down the passenger window, and slowed to a crawl, grateful the road was long and straight enough to give any car coming up behind him a chance to slow down.
“Good afternoon, Principal,” he said laconically, trying to keep his smile genial.
Larx turned enough to salute and kept up his steady jog. “Howya doin’, Deputy? Everything quiet, I hope.”
“It is, it is indeed. But I gotta say, you been giving me a lotta bad moments, running on the side of the road these days. You never heard of a track?” Ooh—good one! The friendly neighborhood PSA, because nothing said come-on like irritating the fuck out of the object of your interest.
“Well, sir, I have heard of a track,” Larx told him, his voice tightening. “However, the football team is running practices out there, and I really hate being the old man running laps.”
He was lying. Aaron knew it.
“And the cross-country track that wraps around the back of the school’s property?” Aaron knew for a fact Larx used to run with his cross-country kids, even during the off-season.
“Yes, sir, I may know a thing or two about the cross-country track as well.” Stubborn shit wasn’t even winded.
“Well, I’m glad you’re so well-informed,” Aaron sallied. “May I ask—and humor me here—if you are aware of other routes on which to run besides places that routinely turn the local wildlife into street waffles, then what in the holy hell are you doing on the side of the goddamned road?”
In response, Larx sped up.
“I’m driving, jackass!” Aaron hollered.
“What’s that, Deputy? I can’t hear you! Old man going deaf here!”
Larx held a hand up to his ear even as he poured on the speed. Ha! Guy thought he could out-stubborn Aaron? Two. Teenaged. Girls.
Aaron had this down.
They were nearing Olson, which was mostly a forestry service road, and Aaron stepped on the gas just enough to pass Larx up and turn right. He pulled up short and hopped out of the SUV.
When Larx rounded the corner, Aaron was leaning against the side of the unit, arms crossed, head turned toward the road.
“You gonna be civilized about this discussion,” he asked, “or are you going to make me try to keep up with you? I warn you, I was slow in high school, slow in the military, slow in college, and I ain’t got much faster since.”
Larx scowled and kept running. “Try.”
Aaron had lied, actually. He ran every morning. He wasn’t as fast as Larx—or for as long—but he was ready for this, even in his boots.
He locked the SUV, pocketed his keys, and caught up with Larx.
“You’re faster than you think,” Larx muttered after a few uncomfortable moments.
“Well, I do run myself,” Aaron panted. “But usually in the morning, on the old forestry service track out beyond Highway 22. You know that one?”
“Yeah?” Larx sounded impressed. “Yeah. I live out near there.”
“I know you do.” Three years ago Larx’s oldest, Olivia, had gotten a flat tire driving home from a drama rehearsal. Aaron had helped her change the tire and followed her to make sure she got home. Olivia had since graduated—she was a year behind Aaron’s middle girl, Maureen—but she’d been sweet. A little scattered, like a ladybug in a windstorm, but sweet.
“So maybe, now that you’ve proven your point about having enough time to coach the team, you could give an old man a break and run on the home track instead of out here where everybody can see you.”
Larx stopped dead and stood, hands on his hips, scowling. “Is that what you think I’m doing?”
Aaron stopped gratefully and rested, hands on his thighs. “Isn’t it?”
Some of the iron seeped out of Larx’s body, and he shivered. Without self-consciousness, he pulled at the T-shirt around his neck and put it on. On the one hand, this relieved Aaron considerably—he was standing just close enough to smell Larx’s sweat and become supremely aware that his bare skin was at a reach-out-and-touch-me distance away.
On the other, the shirt was soft and comfy and was almost more intimate on than the bare skin.
“I just… needed to get off the property,” Larx said after a moment. “I didn’t want that fuckin’ job.”
Aaron had never heard a school official swear before.
He couldn’t contain his grin. “That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,” he breathed. “Do you say the other swear words too?”
Larx rolled his eyes. “Please. Our staff room sounds like truckers and fishwives—the English teachers get really creative. You’d be surprised.”
“Well, not anymore. You’ve plum taken the mystery out of it for me.” Aaron winked, and Larx shook his head.
“Do I have to?” he asked plaintively. In those four words, Aaron heard the weight of the job on his shoulders. “I’ve got a shit-ton of messages on my phone right now, and if I don’t get off campus, I am morally obliged to answer them.”
Aaron took off his Colton County Sheriff baseball cap, smoothed back his blond hair, and tucked the hat back on again. “There is no law that says you can’t put your life at risk, Larx. That’s not what this is about.”
“Then what’s it about?” Larx stood, hip cocked now, and Aaron wondered if he’d been a resentful and rebellious teenager back in the day. And if anyone had told him it wasn’t “in the day” anymore. Larx still had a kid in high school too—a junior, but in the AP class. Maybe he took lessons from her on how to be rebellious. In any case, Aaron had always thought Larx must have been a fun dad—and a good one. His ex-wife lived down in Sacramento, if Aaron remembered right, and Larx had the kids up here in the hills. Whatever their reasoning, Larx had custody, and that was a big deal.
He was a good man.
Aaron cleared his throat. “It’s about your friendly neighborhood deputy wondering if he’s going to have to tell his son that they need to hire a new AP teacher this year.”
“Argh!” Larx ran his hands through his hair and stomped his foot. “I just… you ever want a grown-up to talk to who doesn’t work with you?”
Aaron blew out a breath. “That’s what my wife was for,” he said apologetically.
Larx grimaced, probably in sympathy. “I’m sorry about that,” he said, from reflex.
Aaron was tired of sympathy. “It was a long time ago, and you didn’t drive the car. And it’s beside the point.”
“Yeah, I get it. The point is, you’d rather not have me set a bad example by running on the side of a shitty road. I get it.”
“Well, the point is also that you could run on that forestry track, and that if you give me fair warning, I could run with you!” A part of Aaron was aghast. Retreat! Retreat! Retreat! His gaydar might engage, and then you’re fucked! But a part of him was exhilarated. Ballsy move, Sheriff George. That might just get you laid!
Larx squinted at him. Aaron usually saw him wear sunglasses outside, but apparently he didn’t feel the need when he was sweating. “Really?” he asked skeptically.
“My property is right off the back of it too,” Aaron said, not sure if Larx knew this. “I’m about two miles away, if you follow that track.”
“I did not know that.” Larx confirmed his suspicions and scratched the back of his head. “You do seem a bit faster than you claimed to be.”
“Well, I do run a few times a week. Only around three miles, but if you loop around, you could go longer after you pick me up and drop me off. It’s better than running here.” That was nonnegotiable.
Some of the starch and defiance seeped out of Larx’s posture. “Yeah. Sure. That’s… nice. Nice of you to ask. Thank you.”
“So I usually leave the house at six thirty for work. We could meet at five?” That would give him half an hour to eat a granola bar and shower. And an hour to run if he went an extra two miles with Larx. It would be cold, so he wouldn’t get to see Larx’s glisteny chest, but he would get the man’s company. Those brief conversations at football games and board meetings lingered in Aaron’s mind. When he wasn’t fighting the system, Larx was damned funny, a thing Aaron had appreciated even before noticing his muscular shoulders and tight, stringy glutes.
Larx nodded. “I’ve got headlights,” he said, which was a good idea, because the days were getting shorter and running in the dark was a good way to get lost—or twist an ankle.
“Well, good. I don’t. I usually go in the evening before dinner.”
Larx cocked his head curiously. “So why are you changing now?”
Crap. “Kirby likes you,” Aaron said. “Would hate to tell him I had to shovel your body off the pavement.”
Larx tilted his head to the exact opposite angle. “You sure do believe in keeping your population safe. One person at a time, even.”
Aaron had blue eyes and fair skin, and he fought against the heat building in his face. “Well, it’s a small town. We’d feel it if you became roadkill—can’t deny it.”
Larx pulled a corner of his mouth back in a cynical smile. “Then don’t try.”
His eyes were brown, and his mouth wide and mobile. Aaron stared at that mouth just long enough for the moment to become uncomfortable.
“Tomorrow morning, Sheriff?” Larx asked, breaking the silence.
“You want a ride back?” Aaron asked courteously, pretty sure that would be the worst thing ever at this point, given how acute the attraction.
“No, sir. I think I’m going to finish my run.”
Aaron nodded and repositioned his baseball cap. “Suit yourself.”
He turned then and strode back to the SUV, resisting the urge to look back and see if Larx was gazing after him. He was pretty sure he felt eyes boring into his back, but he damned well wasn’t going to turn around and check.
He managed to keep the little encounter to himself as he returned to the county office and filled out his dailies. He briefed the chief on his activities—how he was pretty sure the mom-and-pop weed operation they’d spotted a month ago had escalated and they might need to call the DEA, and how the high school’s request for a sidewalk lining school property should be backed by the sheriff’s office as a matter of general safety. He didn’t mention Larx, but Larx wasn’t the only idiot who thought he was immune to traffic.
Sheriff Eamon Mills nodded, asked if Aaron’s report had been filed, and then, just as Aaron turned away, stopped him. “Uh, George?”
“I know this isn’t your shift, but there’s a home game coming up in two weeks. It’s from one of those schools out of county—you know….” Mills grimaced. “We’re a small town, mostly, and this is a big-city school. I’m sure their kids are going to be just fine, because I know the coach, and Foster runs a tight ship. It’s our parents we need to worry about, you understand?”
Aaron grimaced. Yes, he did. Kids these days, with the Internet and cable—they had a view on diversity and the wider world that was both boggling and gratifying. The adults in the family? Well, that wasn’t always the case. Two years before, a school bus driver from a city school had gotten freaked out by a snowflake. Terrified at the prospect of driving in the snow, he’d left his students stranded in front of Colton High after they’d won a playoff basketball game. Aaron and Larx had managed to round up sheriff’s vehicles and parent volunteers to get the kids back to their home school, but Aaron could still remember how afraid those kids had been, huddled together against the gym, surrounded by a hostile population of rednecks who were not happy to lose to a big-city team.
“You’re looking for some more uniforms at the game?” he asked, not reluctantly. Not at all. Larx would be at the game. Game nights were part of a small-town officer’s duty, and Aaron had worked his share. When Larx had been teaching, Aaron had seen him occasionally, because it was a community event, but not always. The principal had to attend the game, though.
Larx would be there. They’d have over a week of running under their belts. Aaron would drag Kirby there, Larx’s youngest daughter would probably attend—it would be fun.
Platonic, single-parent fun.
“Yeah, son. That would be helpful. Maybe you and Larx could spend some time in the opposing team’s bleachers laughing, giving out free concessions, letting our people know we’re all friends here. That okay?”
Eamon was African American and in his sixties, probably ready to retire. He’d spent a few years in the military, a few more in ’Nam, and a few more “getting lost in New York,” as he liked to say. He was both as homegrown and redneck as they came, and surprisingly educated and cosmopolitan in his own way.
Aaron loved him like the father he’d wished he’d had. “That’s fine,” he said, smiling a little. “I’ll bring Kirby—nobody can be mean to that kid when he bats his brown eyes at ’em.”
Eamon nodded. “I appreciate it. And definitely bring the whippersnapper along. That kid needs to spend more time here filing. Last time he went into the archives, he actually solved two cases.”
Aaron grimaced. “Yessir, well, I’d just as soon he not get quite so excited about law enforcement as a career. He’s a danger to himself without the firearm.” Caroline had been sort of a charming klutz too, and that kid did take after his mother.
Eamon chuckled. “We’ll keep the cabinet locked, don’t you worry. But maybe don’t actively keep him away, Aaron. You know kids. The more you say no, the more the kid wants to find ways to make that a yes.”
“Two teenaged daughters,” Aaron said grimly. Eamon had been there. Hell, Eamon had been there when Aaron’s oldest, Tiffany, had to be taken home in a squad car when she’d been busted having sex with her boyfriend under Cofer’s Bridge. He’d been there when Maureen had been busted getting drunk with the other drama kids after they’d taken down the stage of their senior production. Name an embarrassing moment in a parent’s career and Eamon had been there to give advice, his hand on his deputy’s shoulder.
“I remember,” Eamon said now. “How are Tiff and Maureen?”
“Well, Tiff is on track to graduate in two years, because she just changed majors at the last fucking gasp and needs to take almost her entire four years over again.”
Eamon whistled. “Pricey.”
“It is indeed. I told her she’d have to work through part of that, and she called me a tyrant. I told her the only reason she didn’t have to earn all of it was that her sister was on track to graduate a year early and join the Peace Corps so she could go teach children to read in India. Tiff called her sister a name, which I will not repeat, and Maureen called Tiff another name, which I will not repeat, and by the time they both went back to school, neither of them was speaking to the other.”
“Or to you?” Eamon asked kindly.
“Well, Maureen was speaking to me. Which only cemented her identity as an ‘ass-kissing little pussy’—in her sister’s exact words.”
Eamon grunted. “Son, you can’t take that to heart. Kids….”
Aaron sighed and scrubbed his face with his hand. “I know. She’ll get over it. She almost always does. I just… I have a brother I haven’t spoken to in years. He just lives on the other side of the country, is all. I wanted so badly to have the kids grow up and give a damn about each other.”
“Aaron, you’ve done your best. And you know, you’ve got Kirby. That kid can bring those girls together in a heartbeat.”
Well, truth. Kirby had been sending the girls a letter a week over the past six weeks, each one on a little note card, each one updating the other on what her sister was doing. If anyone could play peacemaker there, it was Kirby. “I’m hoping so,” Aaron agreed. That sounded like a good place to leave, so he turned away, only to be brought up short.
“Sir?” Aaron turned back.
“I almost hate to ask this, as a meddling old man, but I am old, and I haven’t made it a secret that I may decide not to run in the next election. And if I don’t, you know I’m going to ask you to step up and run.”
Crap. This. “Yessir—and I’m honored.” Aaron did know how Larx felt. There was not much he hated more than the thought of being the only grown-up left for other people to look to.
“Well, don’t be. It’s a shit job and you get no sleep. But it sure is easier with a helpmate on the home front.”
Aaron grimaced. “Yessir. I have been aware of that for the last ten years.”
“I know you have. And yet you’ve never looked for another Mrs. George.”
Oh God. His whole body washed in a prickle of sweat at the prospect of lying to Eamon—or even dodging the question. You just did not do that to a man whose wife had cooked for your family once a week on the pretext of “just making extra.” You didn’t do that to a man who had kept cookies at his desk for ten years in case his deputies’ children should be forced to do their homework in the police station. It wasn’t right.
“Or Mr. George,” he said, lungs feeling like they were being pressed between a Volkswagen and a sheet of steel.
Eamon’s eyes opened wide, and he gaped a few times.
Aaron smiled weakly.
Eamon snapped his mouth shut and shrugged. “Is that so?”
“It’s a toss-up, sir.”
“Well, a missus would be easier, but that’s not my call to make. I’m just saying that you don’t have to do it alone.”
Aaron closed his eyes to try to keep the burning behind them from getting out of hand. “Thank you, sir,” he said quietly. “I should get home now.”
“Gail’s making cookies tonight, son. She’ll have some ready for Kirby tomorrow.”
Aw, dammit. Aaron had to turn away, because he was not at his manly best at the moment. “That’s right sweet of her, sir. I’ll have Kirby draw up a thank-you note.”
“We look forward to them every time.”
Kirby tended to draw cartoons on his thank-you notes. The last one had featured a pig rolling around in hearts and daisies, snuffling with happiness over a steaming plate of cookies.
“I’ll tell him that.”
Aaron kept walking. He just could not handle another hit in the feels this day, and that was the truth.
When Aaron got home, Kirby was at the kitchen table working dutifully on his homework, some sort of chicken/veggie/Thai disaster cooking in the small kitchen behind him.
“You’re late,” Kirby said without looking up. He was a stickler for things like that.
“I was talking to my boss.” I was coming out to my boss in case I could possibly maybe someday bang your principal. Nope. That last part was staying subtext.
Kirby looked up as he walked in from living room, and the familiar shock of seeing Caroline’s brown eyes, surrounded with a thick fringe of lashes, peering back at him zapped a little path of sweet pain through Aaron’s heart. “What about?” Kirby worried. He had an active imagination, and in the same way Aaron couldn’t watch Larx jogging down that horrible road without picturing the worst, if Aaron was so much as five minutes late, Kirby imagined him dead.
“About going to the football game next Friday night.”
Kirby grimaced. “You’re on redneck patrol, aren’t you? To make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves because we haven’t ever seen big-city folk before.”
“Pretty much. Want to come make some new friends?”
Kirby perked up. “People who have spent the last ten years of their lives somewhere that hunting season isn’t considered a legit excuse not to go to school? I’m there.”
This was Kirby’s last year of high school, and Aaron could sense that need in his boy to get the hell out of this tiny town. Not that he blamed him—Aaron would miss him is all.
“Thanks. Eamon asked about you. He’s sending cookies tomorrow.” Aaron strode into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of protein juice to fortify himself for his run. Stuff tasted like shit, but Kirby had mixed it up for him the year before, and it really worked. Anything to keep him from eating cookies after his shift.
Kirby grimaced. “Dad….”
He walked back toward the battered wooden table so he could let Kirby see his actual sympathy. “Yeah. I know.” Gail was the loveliest woman, and her casseroles and side dishes were amazing. But her cookies….
“We have chickens who will love them,” Aaron said diplomatically.
Kirby shook his head. “That’s why I drew the pig last time.”
“Well, if it hadn’t been so darned cute, maybe she would have gotten the hint. How’s dinner?”
“Ready when you’re done with your run,” Kirby responded promptly. “So maybe get out of my hair and let me finish my chemistry. Larx’ll be pissed if it’s not perfect.”
“Deal. But I’m going to start running with Larx in the mornings from now on, so however that fits into your plans.”
Kirby squinted at him as though he had sprouted another head. “You’re going to what?”
Aaron fidgeted with his empty glass. “I, uh, you know. Me and Larx are going to go running. In the morning. So he doesn’t have to run on the side of the road. That sort of freaked you out.”
Kirby blinked slowly. “Yes. Yes, it did. But I didn’t expect you to go out and invite him to run. That’s like, super deluxe up-close personal service there, Dad. I’m not sure you can go above and beyond for every citizen in town—even this town.”
“Well, Larx isn’t just everyone,” Aaron said, soldiering on. “He’s the principal.”
Kirby’s face had been sweet and round as a child, but he’d developed a strong jaw and high cheekbones as he’d grown. He had dark blond hair like his father, and he’d be a fine-looking man someday, but right now he was a beautiful adolescent. The kind you thought angels modeled their own faces after.
Right up until his “bullshit” line arced between his eyebrows.
Like it was now.
“There are secret adult machinations at work here,” he pronounced. “I’m not sure how or why, but this does not bode well for any involved.”
Aaron fidgeted with his empty cup and then walked back into the kitchen. “Uh, watching a lot of science fiction there, son?”
“Yes, Dad, with you. So don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Not a clue. Gonna change and go running. Back in half an hour. Bye!”
It wasn’t pretty, but retreats seldom were.
That night he fell asleep remembering Larx squinting at him in the dusty sunshine, the iron out of his spine and some sweetness in his smile.
He dreamed he’d moved forward, taken a step, until he could feel the heat from Larx’s exertion, until he could feel Larx’s breath on his face.
He dreamed of their lips touching in a simple kiss.